I left Stan Grant’s measured and important exploration of Australian racism feeling somewhat shattered and profoundly moved. It is a narrative made personal by the journey of AFL star, Adam Goodes.
A promising Ballarat VFL player, Goodes rose to brilliance with the Sydney Swans with the rather inspired leadership and mentorship of Paul Roos. Winning the Brownlow twice, playing in multiple premiership finals and being Australian of the Year in 2014 shows the impact he made on football and the wider community.
Growing up with little knowledge of his Aboriginal heritage – we heartbreakingly hear his mother’s story of been taken from her family at age 5 – he was encouraged by the club to study Aboriginal culture at university. Already a role model for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal kids across Australia, he realised the importance of speaking up about racism. With this he became, as Stan Grant says, a “black man who complains”, “an angry Aboriginal” and the retaliation from white Australia was swift, ugly and prolonged.
The treatment of Goodes’ journey is deliberately evenhanded, with a noticeable amount of space given to right wing journalist Andrew Bolt. Like my friend James, who, when recommending I see this film, said, “Prepare yourself for Andrew Bolt. I was tempted to throw things at the screen.” I found Bolt’s deliberate ignorance hard to take. It’s an important element though, as you see where the continuing denial, by white people, of the existence and harm of racism comes from.
We hear Bolt decry how a 13-year-old girl was treated after calling Goodes an ape, contrasted with Goodes’ mum talk of being stripped, scrubbed and shaved at age 5 after being forcibly removed from her family. The wilful ignorance and lack of empathy is profound and all the more damaging from a man like Bolt who has power and is given plenty of space to shout.
It drives home the fallacy and destruction of Terra Nullius, the legal term that allowed British colonisation. It means everything we have now, the ‘Australian dream’, is built on invasion, massacre and fraud. How are we all not in some way guilty?
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.